Was it job-related illness – or just an unexplained death?

by on January 24, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“Johnny’s widow is suing us,” said Safety Director Frank Carbone. “She says that she hired an occupational-disease expert, and the expert said Johnny was exposed to so much off-gassing from wood dust over the years that it eventually killed him.”

“He never complained to me in the 38 years we worked together,” said Supervisor Mark Tiplinsky.

Under OSHA limits
“Johnny wasn’t the complaining type,” said Frank.

“And there wasn’t much to complain about,” said Mark. “All the dangerous stuff was done in a different part of the plant. Here we just polish products and package them.”

“Well, packaging has its own hazards,” said Frank. “But I’ve never seen a lot of wood dust in the packaging area.”

“There usually isn’t much,” said Mark.

“I tested the air after he got sick, just to make sure,” said Frank. “Until the results came back, I was worried. But we turned out to be well under OSHA limits for chemical exposure.”

“That’s good,” said Mark. “But what happened to Johnny? He went home with what looked like a cold, and two months later he died of emphysema. He wasn’t even a smoker….”

“Johnny had diabetes, multiple infections and, yes, emphysema,” said Frank. “But the doctors never figured out exactly how he got any of those. The expert who blamed us couldn’t identify any chemical in our plant that got Johnny sick.”

The company fought the widow’s workers comp claim, saying that there wasn’t enough evidence that Johnny got sick at work.

The court agreed and didn’t award benefits for a job-related death. The state workers comp commission noted that doctors couldn’t identify exactly what caused the symptoms that led to his death.

The strongest evidence for the company: The company’s testing of the air showed the indoor air quality was well within OSHA standards.

Take home: In some areas of a work site or plant, workers may face exposure to chemicals and dust that you might not always suspect – such as a packaging area, or a loading and unloading area. Even if workers aren’t complaining (as in this case), talk to them to make sure they aren’t experiencing any signs of occupational illness.

Cite: Johnson v. Thomasville, No. COA080-610, NC App.

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